New members of trade unions as the basis for the development of social dialogue

From 1 to 2 October 2020, in Gdańsk / Poland, at the headquarters of the National Commission and on the ZOOM platform, a meeting of the Educational Platform working group entitled "New members of trade unions as the basis for the development of social dialogue" was held. The meeting was organized by the National Commission of NSZZ "Solidarność" with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

The meeting was attended by 21 representatives of workers' organisations from 8 countries belonging to the European Union: Poland, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovakia, Serbia, Spain, Hungary and Romania. The working languages were English, French, Spanish and Polish.

The aim of the working group was to discuss and exchange experiences on the trade union density in countries represented at the Educational Platform in the education sector over the years 2016-2020, including the impact of COVID-19, the reasons for its decline, what remedies should be taken and the reasons for which employees do not join trade union organizations.

The meeting was opened by Elżbieta Wielg, NSZZ „Solidarność”, who welcomed the participants and presented the two-day meeting program. Then she gave the floor to Jerzy Jaworski, Vice-Chairman of the National Committee of NSZZ "Solidarność", Józef Mozolewski, President of the Podlasie Region of NSZZ "Solidarność" and Vice-president of EZA, and Ryszard Proksa, Chairman of the National Education and Upbringing Section, who in turn welcomed all the guests.

Next was the lecture part. The first presentation titled: „Exchange of good practices: a detailed presentation of 5 effective methodologies for organizing used in individual countries” was given by Diederik Brink, CNV, the Netherlands. The situation of another country was presented by Lubica Cerna, President of NKOS, Slovakia. Catalina Bonciu, Cartel Alfa, talked about the situation in Romania, whereas the new participant of the Platform, Vesna Zarkovic, GSPRS NEZAVISOST, presented the trade union density in Serbia. The last speaker was Janusz Zabiega, NSZZ "Solidarność", who explained why unionization is falling in Poland and what should be done to remedy it.

In the discussion, after the presentations, it was emphasized that in all countries union density was decreasing, and the main reasons were:

• the lack of interest among employees in belonging to a trade union,

• there is a common belief that employees' rights result from generally applicable labor law and not from employer-trade union negotiations,

• there is a common belief that I do not have to belong to a union because as an employee I will receive what the unions have negotiated anyway,

• too high premium,

• no one talked to me about it,

• the lack of understanding of what makes a trade union different from other social organizations;

Another part of the program was the workshop part where the task of the participants working in groups was to disscus on:

  • tasks which the teachers trade unions are required to do for organising, during the pandemic
  • the role of national, regional and local social partners in building up the awareness of the employees on consequences of shrinking membership during the pandemic
  • best ways to monitor level of organising workers in the education system, including all necessary limitations.

After presenting the results of each group's work, the following issues were identified:

1. Trade union development, especially in a pandemic period, should be a priority task for trade union organizations;

2. There should be clearly defined tasks for each level of the organization in such a way that they are clear and not mutually exclusive;

3. Each trade unionist is responsible for building awareness among non-members of what a trade union is and why the presence of every worker in it is so important;

4. For the development of the trade union, the activities undertaken must be planned, monitored and treated as a permanent activity, not an action activity;

5. Each organization should work out the ways of monitoring the status of union membership and the reasons for not joining the Union, adapted to its capabilities - but always based on systematic work, identifying those responsible for this task and setting periods for submitting monitoring reports.

In addition, participants were asked to share information about the actions undertaken in relation to the existing pandemic.

After presenting the results of each group's work, the most important elements were selected:

1. All countries are debating the wearing of masks, or the wearing of masks is mandatory,

2. Less numerous classes have been introduced,

3. The obligation of class ventilation and disinfection was introduced,

4. Schools that used online learning have now returned to traditional teaching,

5. Every country works a bit differently, schools were opened everywhere, unless there was an infection

6. The need to train teachers in distance learning,

7. Raising awareness of the responsibilities of individual authorities.

At the end, Józef Mozolewski summed up the situation during the pandemic and how much of a surprise it was for everyone, no one expected that we would conduct online seminars, meetings and lessons, especially as teachers, parents and children were not prepared for it. Despite these difficulties, this task was completed and we even acquired additional skills. This situation has not resulted in a loss of union members yet, but the situation regarding unionization is serious and awareness-raising efforts cannot be abandoned. The development of the union should be a permanent task and reports on its implementation are an obligatory element considered at meetings of the union's governing bodies, starting at the company level and ending at the national level.